Some competition and consumer issues in the Indigenous visual arts industry

Author/editor: Altman, JC, Hunter, B, Ward, S
Year published: 2002
Issue no.: 235


This paper focuses on how competition and consumer protection issues might be relevant to the Indigenous visual arts industry. The structure of the industry is complex: the majority of producers reside in remote localities; there are a variety of functional levels; the industry encompasses both the 'fine' and 'tourist' art markets and includes works made in collaboration with non-Indigenous people.

There is an emphasis in the paper on government funded community art centres which collect, document and market Indigenous art. However, the objectives of most art centres are mixed and the roles that they play in remote communities extend well beyond these tasks. Perhaps most importantly, art centres act as cultural mediators between artists and the market. If they are to act in the artists' best interests, art centres may operate most effectively as monopolies. This is primarily because of market failure associated with remoteness, their small size, dispersed artist populations and the poor track record of private dealers.

Notwithstanding the fact that a few art centres have exclusive access to some geographically defined art styles, the nature of competition within the industry appears healthy. However, there is concern about competition from imported as well as locally produced 'fakes' in the tourist market. Authorship and issues of authenticity emerge as considerations with potential for future industry impacts, though labelling and other documentation strategies by art centres and other outlets have improved markedly in recent years.

Those sections of the Trade Practices Act 1974 that may be relevant to the industry include unconscionable conduct, false and misleading representation and coercion or harassment. A significant amount of anecdotal evidence has emerged in the course of research in relation to the unethical practices of some private dealers. The production of a producer and consumer education charter is put forward as a strategy which may be of benefit to this growing industry.

ISBN: 0 7315 5610 0

ISSN:1036 1774

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